Elephants!

A Room Full of Elephants

As you might have noticed, my website has sprouted a new book. A Room Full of Elephants is now available for preorder on Kindle and in the iBooks Store, and will be released on March 16th. The paperback version will appear on or around the same date: possibly earlier, should it please the gods.

You can follow links here, there and everywhere to read the blurb and, I hope, to order a copy. In this post I want to describe some of the background to the book, and the writing process. There won’t be any spoilers.

I’ve noodled with the core concepts in the book for a few years. Not long after The Pink and the Grey was released I started scribbling with no more than an opening scene in mind, planning to follow the plot wherever it might lead. It led to a brick wall in that case, about 15K words in, but the process spewed a number of ideas that I squirrelled away. After Disunited and The Pauline Conversion, looking through my notes for inspiration, I decided this was the story I wanted to tell next.

I deliberately didn’t reread the abandoned draft. I didn’t want to be lured into copy-pasting words and scenes and finding myself stuck in the same mire as before. I took the concepts, wrote page after page of bullet points including random ideas, quotes and character notes, roughed out something not fit to shine an outline’s steel toecaps, and started writing again from a blank sheet of pixels.

Now, I’m not a pantser, as those who write without an outline are sometimes called. I prefer a fractal approach: start with broad swathes of plot, a rough coastline, and add progressively more detail until I can see the fiddly bits of Slartibartfast’s fjords. But this time I wanted to try a little light pantsing to see how it went: much as with the original version of the story, but with a different focus.

Yeah, I shouldn’t do that.

I can’t remember who said it (Stephen King?) but it’s at least partially true: writer’s block is nature’s way of telling you your plot’s taken a wrong turning and the satnav is currently directing it to a dead end. And when that happens all you can do is tell your muse (Siri) to shut his gob, then wrench the gearstick into reverse and try not to run over the sheep.

The good news with these new-fangled computers is that nothing ever gets deleted: it just gets moved to a folder marked OLD, to be cherry-picked for the bits that haven’t turned to mush.

arfoe-old-oldAnd when it happens again, you rename OLD to OLD OLD and make a new OLD.

I wouldn’t like to guess how many words I actually wrote for ARFOE to produce the 100K of the final book.

By comparison, with The Pauline Conversion I had a detailed outline and wrote the first draft from zero to 120K words in under 100 days. A Room Full of Elephants took at least twice as long, for fewer words. That includes two blocks of time when I wasn’t writing: I stepped away to rethink aspects of the story and to give Siri and his slapdash directions a stern talking to. I also went to the Lake District for a week, which helped put some distance between brain and draft. Once a new route was plotted (or a new plot routed), avoiding low bridges and deep fords, I pushed on. This time the drystone walls survived my meanderings, and I reached my destination relatively intact.

I completed the first draft on my parents’ 51st wedding anniversary. (The book’s dedicated to them.)

A month of incubation a Christmas, and several drafts later, here we are. A Room Full of Elephants is done, and despite all the frustration I love it.

Writing is a slog, and a chore, and a delight. The hours can rush past, and time can stop. You can struggle to find one word, any word, to fit, and you can bash out a thousand without blinking. And nothing, nothing at all, beats the surprises. The revelations your subconscious hides from you until just the right moment: and you think yes, but now I’ve got to revise everything I’ve already written, and you look back, and you don’t have to change a word.

I know, I know, it sounds unlikely. Twee nonsense, the ravings of a poor, ruddy-cheeked auteur perspiring into his aubergine ruff. It happens, though, I promise you. (Although my ruff is turquoise.)

And now the cycle begins again. A pile of books to read, a large number of coffee shop windows to stare out of, and a notebook to fill with nonsense. Right now I have no idea what the next book will be.

All I know is I’ll be writing an outline first.

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The Pauline Conversion: out now on Kindle

tpc-release

A day ahead of my self-imposed deadline, The Pauline Conversion is now available for Kindle owners worldwide at the low, low price of £2.99/€3.49/$3.99.

Here is a fragrant smorgasbord of links:

UK | USA | Canada | Australia | India | Germany | France | Spain | Italy | Japan | Brazil | Mexico

The book should appear in the iBookstore and the Kobo store in the next few days. The paperback version should appear on Amazon at roughly the same time. (I’ll add links to the book’s page when I have them.)

Now, this is the bit where I beg: if you read The Pauline Conversion — and especially if you like it — please leave a review to help other readers discover the book. Thanks!

Disunited: HALF PRICE this week

The nice people at Stonewall UK, in conjunction with bookmakers Paddy Power, have launched a campaign to challenge footballers to support gay players. They’ve sent out rainbow laces to every footballer in 134 clubs across the UK, and want them all to wear the laces in next weekend’s matches. The campaign slogan is “Right Behind Gay Footballers” (see #RBGF on Twitter) and the campaign has the vocal support of current QPR footballer Joey Barton.

This is a fascinating and potentially cunning campaign. I can’t wait to see the results: will anyone wear the laces? And if they do, what will the reaction be from their teammates, and opponents, and the people in the stands?

And also, will mainstream media talk about any of this?

Homophobia in football — and especially the prospect of an out gay footballer playing at the top level in the UK — are issues close to my heart: see numerous blog posts and of course my comic novel, Disunited. My prediction that a player would come out over the summer break didn’t come true, but maybe this campaign could be the trigger for someone. I hope so.

You might wonder, since I wrote Disunited, whether I knew about the campaign in advance. I didn’t, but I certainly support it. (Interestingly, rainbow laces was an idea considered for the Disunited cover.)

Anyway, in a gibbering fit of excitement as a result of this campaign I’ve decided, for this week only, to halve the price for Disunited for Kindle owners.

New Kindle prices:

Tell all your friends! Share! Tweet!

Free offer: the results

As you might have noticed — especially if you follow me on Twitter or on Google+ — for the last two days Till Undeath Do Us Part has been free to download on Kindle. At the moment that book — but not the other two — is signed up to Amazon’s Kindle Select programme, which lets me reduce the price of a book to zero for up to five days in every ninety, and gives a few other benefits — at the price of exclusivity. Currently Till Undeath is only available as an ebook for Kindle. (The others are still available as ebooks elsewhere.)

It’s an experiment. I generally favour making my books as widely available as possible, but a few fellow writers have experienced a decent and occasionally sustained bounce in overall sales after making one of their books free for a short time. I figured it was worth a try: evidence trumps dogma.

In advance I signed up to a few free services claiming they’d (try to) feature my book during its free period. I’m not sure if any did: I didn’t check.

I was tempted to give BookBub a go. On receipt of sufficient silver they will plug your book to some of their million-plus subscribers. Their Horror list has over 100,000 readers; at the time it would have cost me around $60 to include Till Undeath, with an estimated download count (from their tracking of previous such titles) in four digits. However, while my fingers hovered over the submission form, a line leapt out from their T&Cs: they don’t usually feature novellas. So I bailed out.

That’s the build-up.

On day one, Thursday, I posted to the usual places: here, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, and even LinkedIn. I attempted to entice magazines such as Attitude, Gay Times, SFX and Starburst to retweet the offer (none did). I did receive a few retweets from friends and others, though: thanks to those who helped out. I tweeted in the UK morning, at lunchtime, and evening, trying not to over-spam.

On day two, Friday, I did virtually no promotion. The idea here was to see whether I could determine if tweeting etc had any measurable effect.

Anyway, here’s the chart you’ve skipped past the text to see.

tudup-free-2013-04

Total: 433 downloads, dominated by 269 from the US and 127 from the UK. Then a surprising (to me) 21 from Germany, 9 from Canada, 5 from France and 2 from Italy.

Am I happy with these numbers? Yes and no.

I had no idea how many downloads there’d be. Not even an order of magnitude. 1? 10? 100? 1000? My cynical, self-deprecating self thought I’d be lucky to reach one hundred. My over-optimistic engineering-estimate self saw the numbers BookBub tossed around and wondered if I might hit one thousand.

I can’t say I’m unhappy with 433. That’s potentially 433 new readers, who might like the story and go on to buy my other books. It’s more copies of the book than I’ve sold. The goal was to increase visibility, and I’ve made some headway.

The shape of the chart — especially the Total curve — suggests day two’s lack of promotion didn’t make much if any difference. Downloads increased, slowing as you’d expect. If I’d kept the book free for a third day it might have exceeded 450 downloads but probably not 500.

In summary: a worthwhile experiment.

Now for the next stage: with prices back to normal, will there be a knock-on effect on sales?

Out now: The Pink and the Grey

It’s done. The Pink and the Grey has been published for the Kindle, for Apple’s iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, and as a DRM-free ePub from Lulu.

I’ve created a page where you can read the blurb and find links to the book. I’ll update that as more formats come onstream, as a stereotype in braces would probably say.

Stats fiends: it’s 81,867 words long. In a standard 5in by 8in paperback format that’s about 280 pages. And yes, I am planning to release it in print form if you’d prefer an actual paper copy for your groaning bookshelf.

Hey, why not buy the ebook in all its formats and the print version? Why not buy a dozen copies to give to your friends? It makes an ideal Christmas present. Look, just buy it, will you?

I love the cover, which shows a shield not unlike that of St Paul’s College in the story. It’s designed by Mike Smith, creator of the excellent Blogshank blog. (He also writes and illustrates children’s books, so while you’re book shopping you should buy his Edward Hopper and the Carrot Crunch too — available for iPads and iPhones.)

Mike has also produced a new cover for Till Undeath Do Us Part in the same style. None of the story has changed but if you want to buy another copy I shan’t stand in your way. The new cover shows a detail from the stained glass of the west window of King’s College chapel, the magnificent medieval building that plays a part in the story. I simply cannot stop looking at the two faces. Wonderful, expressive — and very appropriate to the story, I think. (As I write, Amazon is still showing the old cover. I imagine there’s some caching somewhere. I twiddled all the necessary bits, I think.)

I guess I now have a brand. All I need are some sales…